Posted by on Mar 20, 2020

Media Release from the National Farmers Union, March 19, 2020

Farmers Markets Are Essential Services, says NFU

(Kingston) — The COVID-19 global pandemic highlights the vulnerabilities in our society. Our healthcare system, our globalized economy, and our food system are all being tested.

Food supply chains have undergone major changes over the past several decades as a result of globalization. Corporations coordinate transnational shipments to precisely balance supply and demand, keeping inventories and reserves low. Under “normal” circumstances, this system results in an abundance and diversity of cheap foods right at our fingertips. It also streamlines profits into the pockets of a few. As grocery store shelves become increasingly bare, we are reminded that we cannot rely on imports during times of crisis. In this time of vulnerability, it is more important than ever to recognize the importance of rebuilding resilient local economies, including diversified local food systems.

Farmers markets are an essential component of local food systems and food sovereignty. But, as non-essential businesses are shut down across the country, many farmers markets are also being forced to close due to emergency measures undertaken to reduce the spread of COVID-19. This action not only creates economic harm for local farmers but it also reduces public access to safe, healthy food.

The NFU demands that farmers markets be considered an essential service and allowed to continue operating. Markets are able to implement proactive measures to ensure vendor and customer safety, such as moving outdoors (if they weren’t outdoors already), increasing the space between vendors, removing seating/dining areas, limiting the number of customers at a given time, and prohibiting customers from touching vendors’ items. It is also important to note that farmers markets provide locally-grown produce with minimal post-harvest handling and significantly shorter supply chains than retail foods. Open air markets may also offer a safer alternative to grocery stores as there are fewer surfaces that need sanitizing and customer behaviour can be more easily monitored by vendors. Vendors who sell at farmers’ markets already must meet public health safe food handling requirements, and farmers know how to address biosecurity risks.

As long as grocery stores remain open to the public, so should farmers markets. We are privileged to live in a country that has the capacity to move towards diverse self-sufficiency – a key tenet of food sovereignty. Now more than ever we urge all levels of government to acknowledge the importance of localized food systems.

We call on governments across Canada to declare farmers markets an essential service, and to work with markets to ensure their continued safe operation and food provision capacity during the pandemic crisis. We also call on eaters to support their local farmers and other local businesses during this difficult and uncertain time.

Additional ideas from Alvaro Venturelli of Plan B Organic Farms:

“We need to organize around getting resources and labour out to the farms to ensure they plant more than usual instead of less….  Food Sovereignty should be implemented now and we should bring into production the physical reserves we need to feed Canada through next winter.   Government should be facilitating tractors and prioritizing fuel resources to collective growing projects and farms closer to market should be supported more and more.   Cash croppers should be prioritizing higher food value crops and online platforms and delivery programs should be supported. This may be the new normal for some time with peak infection well off yet and the spring;)  happy Spring tonight!   The spring is now…   We need to focus on people in government who will bring this about as political will.    Business as usual is clearly not working.”  Alvaro

From the Market:
We support the NFU’s demands. This is not the time to forget our local food system and abandon local farmers. Toronto market organizers are working together on safe ways to make more local food available during this crisis, and your support is crucial.